If you are one of the 10 million bloggers/social-media-types/early adopters that was invited to beta test Google+, then your last 26 days have been filled with a profusion of blog posts about how to get started with Google +, getting the most out of Google+, and even debates about whether people should already be charging for their expertise on Google+. However, the topic of Google+ and privacy has been less talked about. In fact, with the exception of one privacy flaw that was covered fairly well, the topic of what Google+ means to personal privacy has gotten very little ink.
Google+ Circles and The Illusion of Privacy
Google+ circles are nothing short of a game changer. The ability to segment whom you share information with as well as the ability to add people to circles in single-blind fashion are huge leaps forward for social networking. These features along with other privacy structures in G+ make it extremely appealing to those who, for the past few years, have reluctantly accepted Facebook’s heavy handed approach to personal privacy.
Google+ has given us actual privacy, but it has also given us the illusion of privacy.
While circles might be wonderful, the reality is that when you share a very sensitive item to a circle made up of only your closest family members, you are also sharing that information with a large, publicly-traded, multinational corporation – a corporation whose primary business is collecting data about you and selling it. You see, Google is not your friend; in fact, you are not even Google’s customer.
You are the product Google sells to its customers.
Why Google Created Google+
In an excellent analysis by Barbara Ortutay at CRMdaily.com, Google+ Social Net Is About Leadership in Selling Ads, Ms. Ortutay states:
“Facebook’s greatest advantage is the immense trove of information that its users have shared about themselves through about 4 billion posts and connections they make collectively every day. Facebook knows what people are reading, eating and watching. It knows who’s friends with whom, and which friends people trust for recommendations on what shoes to buy and which plumbers to hire.
Google can’t index most of this information on its search engine because Facebook doesn’t share it. Instead, Facebook has formed a search partnership with Google rival Microsoft Corp. … This means Facebook users who search for shoes or concert tickets on Bing might get results that are tailored to the interests they listed on the site. …That puts Google at a disadvantage. Unless it can get similar data through a social service of its own, Google is left with a formula that sorts through the pattern of Web links and other computer data to determine where a site should rank …[and that] system has become increasingly vulnerable to manipulation by Web sites looking to rank higher than their rivals.”
Google’s business model has long been centered on one thing, having the greatest quantity and quality of digital data in existence. However, the rapid shift towards social sharing in the last few years has left Google falling behind in the new front of the data war. G+ is its recent attempt to remain the data leader.
Perhaps one of the greatest misconceptions about Google and its many sites is that they are free. Google is not free; it never has been. Not its apps, not its services, and not its new social network. You pay Google a little bit each time you click your mouse; you pay in personal data.
Google is now combining the two most important data streams you have – your search history (which is probably as close as we have come to a map of the human mind) and your social graph (which tells data aggregators things about you that businesses have traditionally paid large amounts for) – to create an incredibly rich and detailed psychographic profile. A profile that we all offer up for free without hesitation. The truth is that…
In an information economy, information is the currency we trade for convenience.
To some degree, we have all become digital prostitutes, willing to part with what is personal and valuable for the conveniences that help us feed our digital habits.
And perhaps that is the price of a wired world. We trade our privacy for gadgets that entertain us, information that helps us compete, and networks that allow us to connect to others. We do so willingly and, for most of us, with an innate understanding that we are all participating in a grand experiment – a symbiotic marriage of man and machine that has never been tried before. It is a Brave New World – both literally and figuratively.
You Can Take My Google+ When You Pry It From My Cold Dead Fingers
For the record, I love Google+ and, big picture, have nothing against Google as a company. In fact, I think Google is one of the most innovative and impressive companies on the planet. I don’t see black helicopters with the G+ logo coming over the hill, and, quite frankly, G+ has provided me an environment where I will finally participate in the personal side of the social media revolution. After 3 years of sitting silently by while people I barely spoke to in high school updated me about their cat’s litter box training, I am ready to get in the game.
The purpose of this post was to provide a counterweight to the laudatory and virtually uncritical discussions of G+ and privacy. To take a look at the 50,000 foot view of how this new social network will fit into the ever-increasing personal revelations we offer up as information currency in order to live our networked lives. And to help us all remember that privacy from one another is not the only privacy concern.
In solving one privacy problem, Google has increased another. By allowing us to share more selectively, Google has encouraged us to share more. And while the information shared might be specifically isolated to friends, family, or coworkers, it is always shared with Google. As Google cross references your social data with your search data, your analytics, your Google docs, and your Picasa photos, it will possess a more complete picture of you than even your spouse or shrink probably has.
The situation is akin to turning up the lights in a house with large windows when you are home alone. You may feel safer, but you have actually put yourself on display and blinded yourself to threats. The feeling of security has overridden your actual security. You see, circles might make you feel as if your privacy is more protected, but the greatest threat to your privacy is the same. It has only changed names and logos.
Honey, Do These Thoughts Make Me Look Old?
I understand that this post may reek of Ludditism. We live in a social age; perhaps personal privacy is simply a thing of the past, a quaint notion from a bygone era. As a businessperson and marketer, I must confess that I am excited about the potential of Google+ and of the data that consumers are willing to provide so my marketing can be more effective.
However, as a citizen and intermittent student of history, I do wonder what the existence of a data-tagged citizenry could mean. How could these vast digital records of our lives be used if the tyrannical horrors that infected the industrialized world in the 20th Century were to rear their bloody heads in the 21st Century? I don’t profess to know the answer, and fortunately for us all, it is a question for people who are much smarter than I to ponder.
In the end, I know this: We will all continue to enjoy Google+ and share our lives on it. But if you get nothing else out of this post, please just take away the ever so slight reminder that what you share with your brother on Google +, you also share with Google – and unlike your brother, Google never forgets.
So, doth I rant too much? Do you ever think about data privacy not just peer-to-peer privacy? Even with circles, are you going to hold back from sharing some things?
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